The overwhelming emphasis on materials and process inherent to fine printing is a tremendous obstacle to the act of reading and the ritual of sitting down to take in a story or poem. Fine press books have ceased to have anything to do with this ritual. In planning these editions, the fine press publisher asks (as Ms Warde noted) How should it look? not What must it do? As a result, the deluxe limited editions are not about content—they are about materials and process. They are exclusively about form, and as such, they are prime examples of function following form: the cardinal sin of design.

If these undeniably beautiful fine press editions, for which every detail is carefully considered and laboriously crafted, is inherently an example of bad design, then what book format can claim to be a successful example of good design? The paperback. The hastily designed, poorly printed, glorified pad of cheap paper is a far more successful piece of design than the fine press book. Although not necessarily handsome, the paperback book can be considered the more beautiful, more successful form because it selflessly gives itself over to the content. Rarely do we concern ourselves with the welfare of our paperbacks.This is because we are too busy reading them. The books are doing their job. Isn’t this the most basic test of successful design, that the object in question is used almost without thought? Is this an attribute the fine press book can claim?

Bookmaker Michael Russem in The Bonefolder, 2007 (PDF). And if that is true of the ordinary, humble paperback, maybe one day soon it’ll be more true of the ordinary, humble e-reader — once Amazon et al. get a few kinks ironed out.